Tag Archives: Hiking

A Short Hike along St. John’s River

Just a brief post to say hi. I’m back home and trying to catch up on all the wonderful posts you, my friends, have produced while I was away. I had a whirlwind trip, but managed to get in a couple of hours of hiking on Saturday in the Timucuan Ecological & Historical Preserve along the St. John’s River in North Florida.

preserve jungle jaxThis huge and very interesting preserve represents one of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the Atlantic Coast. It would have required at least a full day or two to properly experience the beauty of its salt marshes, coastal dunes, and hardwood hammocks.

drift wood on the beach in jax

And to explore 6000 years of human history within it boundaries.  This preserve  marks the place where one of the Timucuan tribes met the first French explorers in 1562.  Sadly, this meeting, and the French and Spanish settlers that soon followed, represented the beginning of the end of the longstanding Timucuan culture.

native american hut jax

The preserve also houses an exhibit of Fort Carolina originally built by the first French settlers on the river bank.

fort in jax

We didn’t have the time to reach the wetlands where I could have found birds to “shoot”, but I could hear them everywhere in the jungle-like forest.

ecological preserve jax

The only bird I managed to capture on this short hike was a Turkey Vulture who enjoyed the winds above the river.

turkey vulture 2 jax

Stopping along the river we spotted several schools of dolphins, most of them too far out for me to get a picture.

dolphins in st johns river jax

The preserve also has ongoing ecological research projects in the many different types of habitats it houses. We stumbled upon one of the vegetation projects on our hike through the maritime hammock.

ecological project jax

It was a compact hike, but gave me a taste of what this preserve has to offer. I hope to return one day with better time to explore the beauty of its habitats, and its birds, properly.

st johns river 4 jax

I hope your week is going great. Get out and enjoy nature! Tiny – here leaning on a “twin” tree in the hardwood hammock.

Hiking in North FL

Monday Musings: On Silence

“Let silence take you to the core of life.”

“The quieter you become the more able you are to hear.”

Rumi

 “Are you listening?

Be aware of the silence.

Hear life’s depths revealed.

Watch sources of strength be born.

Be still – be present.”

-Tiny 🙂

Clearwater, FL. Destination for Your Outward-bound Vacation.

I originally wrote this article for Bucketlistpublications.com where it was published on January 13. It’s a little different from my usual posts, but I have edited it slightly and added many more pictures for your enjoyment. See you in Florida soon 😉 Tiny

——

After having lived on three continents, and traveled the world for more than two decades for work and pleasure, I finally found my own little piece of paradise here on Sand Key, a barrier island on Florida’s beautiful Gulf Coast.

large trees in Sand key park at clearwater pass
Northern end of Sand Key at Clearwater Pass

Don’t get me wrong, I still travel, but I no longer feel I have to get away. Simply because there’s so much to explore right here in my backyard.  Outdoor activities for every taste, every age and ability.

I’m not going to tell you about all the excellent hotels, restaurants and bars that cater for visitors here. There’s an app or two for that. Instead, I’ve chosen to talk about a few activities and adventures for those who want an active, outdoorsy vacation.

sunset over the Gulf on Sand Key Clearwater FL
Sunset on Sand Key

Beaches. Beaches are of course the main attraction around here. Clearwater Beach offers everything beachgoers could ask for, a beautiful beach and lots of water related activities at the marina across the road – and throngs of company. Shopping and activities on Pier 60 every night at sunset, and lots of watering holes nearby.

Pier 60 Clearwater Beach Florida
Pier 60 and Clearwater Beach

For those who prefer a bit more quiet and space for their beach day, or maybe want to catch a fresh grouper for dinner, the Sand Key Park and beach just over the bridge from Clearwater Beach, will be ideal. It has all the necessary amenities, including food at nearby establishments.

Sand Key beach clearwater florida
Sand Key public beach on a busy day
Miles long Sand Key Beach clearwater fl
Miles of white sandy beach on Sand Key, south of the park

Water sports. Jet skiing is probably the most popular water sport among visitors, and is available both on Clearwater Beach and on Sand key.

summer fun on jet ski clearwater fl
Jet skiing is popular

Kayaking, sailing and  paddle boarding are available at the Community Sailing Center just opposite the Sand Key Park and the beach. They also offer summer camps  and instructional courses where you can learn the basics of sailing or paddle boarding.

summer fun at sailing center sand key clearwater fl
Sailing school
summer fun canoeing 2 720
Kayaking
summer fun 3 at sailing school 712
Paddle boarding

Kite surfing is popular on Sand Key when the winds are right. Parasailing and “sky-surfing” are also on offer for those who have a higher calling, or just seek the big picture.

parasailing in clearwater fl
Parasailing
skysurfing above sand key tinylessonsblog
Skysurfing

Excursions on the water. Clearwater Beach marina is a busy place. That’s where you can book trips on the water. Again, the items on the menu are many. Anything from a Pirate Ship rides with kids, to dolphin tours, dinner cruises or sunset sails.  Going slow or fast.  Your choice.

pirate ship clearwater fl
A pirate ship, fun for kids
summer fun tour boat clearwater fl
Dolphin tours
dinner cruises at sunset from clearwater fl
Dinner cruises
sailboat at sunset clearwater fl
Sunset sailing
Speed boating in clearwater fl
Speed boating

But I’d like to mention one particular experience that all my guests regardless of age have loved, Captain Mike’s Dreamcatcher Explorations. Most tours (private or split between 5-6 people) go to the Three Rooker Bar, a small Barrier Island.

3 rooker bar barrier island
3 Rooker Bar

There is no better way to spend a morning or an afternoon. You can do tube riding and dolphin watching on your way there, fantastic shelling and snorkeling once you reach the island. It’s an untouched paradise, and if you’re lucky a dolphin might come to swim with you there.

tube ride in clearwater fl
Tube rides
anchored on the three rooker bar barrier island off dunedin fl
Anchored at 3 Rooker bar

Three Rooker Bar is also a protected nature preserve, which brings me to my final theme.

Wildlife and hiking. Many visitors enjoy the birds found on Florida shores. And you can watch/photograph many species right in the salt marsh of Sand Key Park, on the beach and on the bay side. I’ve photographed at least 40 different species there, maybe around 10-15 on any given day.

papa osprey is wet after a bath sand key park clearwater fl
A female osprey, wet after a dive
reddish egret sand key park salt marsh clearwater fl
A Reddish Egret

If you want to experience untouched Florida nature and are up for a hike, then I can recommend a visit to Honeymoon Island about 30 minutes north of Clearwater.

Great Egret on Honeymoon island
A Great Egret on Honeymoon Island

And if you are up for a really long hike and the weather is nice, you can walk to Caldesi, a pristine barrier island, on a sand bar all the way from Clearwater. Those who want to just enjoy the beach or hike the nature trail can also reach Caldesi Island by boat from Honeymoon Island.

caladesi island nature trail dunedin florida
Nature trail on Caladesi Island
Beach on Caladesi Island, voted America's best beach a few years ago
Caladesi Island beach, voted America’s best beach a few years ago

Other nature related adventures are offered by Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which is the home of Winter, the dolphin from two movies, Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2.  The Aquarium, which is actually a hospital and rehabilitation center for marine animals, also offers excursions on the bay to examine the interesting marine life there.

Here’s to an outdoorsy vacation in the Clearwater area!

Silence Breathes in Colors. On Caladesi Island.

Caladesi island from the air. Source: Pinellascounty.org
The Hurricane Pass and Caladesi island from the air. Source: Pinellascounty.org

One morning at the end of January, I set out with a friend just after sunrise.  She had agreed to join me for a hike on Caladesi Island, one of the few remaining pristine barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, situated a mile and a half off shore from the city of Dunedin, FL.

It was called Hog Island until 1921 when a major hurricane split it into two separate islands. The Hurricane Pass was formed. The northernmost island became known as Honeymoon Island after becoming popular with honeymooners in late 1930s.  The southern island got its name, or so the story goes,  after a Spaniard named “Desi” said to have lived on the island bayou, which is “cala” in Spanish. Caladesi.

Caladesi Island eastern shore

Caladesi Island, now a state park, was “discovered” in 1888 by a Swiss immigrant, Henry Scharrer, who became the first and only homesteader ever on the island. His daughter, Myrtle, who was born there in 1895, has written an interesting book, “Yesteryear I Lived in Paradise – The Story of Caladesi Island”,  first published in 1984.

Myrtle and her father, Henry, at the homestead, circa 1902. Source: floridastateparks.org

In the book, she gives a timeline of the area’s early history involving the Tocobaga, Seminole and Miccosukee people, and the Spanish – English – Spanish rule until the Florida territory was acquired by the U.S. in 1821. She also describes her family’s life on the island in late 1800s and early 1900s in vivid color and fascinating detail.

Fishermen close to Honeymoon Island

We started our trip by driving to Honeymoon Island. From there we took the first boat of the day over to Caladesi. The air was cool. The ocean was completely still. A light mist was rising  from the water as the sun  slowly climbed higher.

fog rises on the ocean on our way to Caladesi island
A small island between main land and Caladesi Island

Suddenly we spotted some movement in the water. It was a bottlenose dolphin on a morning swim in the sparkling ocean.

A Bottlenose Dolphin near Caladesi Island
A Bottlenose Dolphin

A few minutes later we passed the northernmost tip of Caladesi Island. White sand,  shore birds … and more dolphins, all swept in the soft blue of the morning.

northern tip of caladesi island by tiny
The northern tip of Caladesi Island
A school of Bottlenose Dolphins frolicking in the ocean Caladesi Island

We watched them quietly for a while – and got another delightful surprise. A mother dolphin with a baby beside her “floated” by on the other side of the boat.  They might have been sleeping. It certainly was a dream-like moment.  Dolphins are such enchanting beings, meeting so many of them first thing in the morning was a treat. The universe was smiling.

Caladesi Island two Bottlenose Dolphins, mother and child
Two Bottlenose Dolphins, mother and child

The boat ride was short, about 20 minutes, and soon we started to navigate our way into the marina, the only establishment on the island. I was excited to finally experience the beauty of the island I had read so much about.

Caladesi island approaching the marina
Approaching the marina

The island is about six miles (9.6 km) long. We decided to start by walking south on the beach, and then hike the 3-mile (4.8 km) nature trail in the interior of the island. The beach was pristine, so beautiful I could have walked there for the whole length of the island!

caladesi island beach by tiny
The miles long beach on Caladesi Island

But we wanted to see more. I knew that unlike Honeymoon Island, this was not a place where I could spot lots of birds inland, but I anticipated that the nature itself would be breathtaking. And it was, Florida in its natural state, as it used to be.

caladesi island nature trail live oak by tiny
The nature trail
Caladeai island live oak on the nature trail by tiny
A huge live oak extends across the trail
caladesi island nature trail pines2 by tiny
Tall pines along the trail

The trail passed through beautiful old pine, oak and palm forests. And soon we came across the beautiful waterway along which one could reach the interior of the island by kayak.

caladesi island pond by tiny
The inland waterway

When we came closer to the former homestead, we found the only fresh water pond on the island. That’s where Myrtle and her family got their water for daily use. Trees were bending over the pond, as if protecting it from the passage of time. And silence… was breathing in mesmerizing colors.

caladesi island freahwater pond
The fresh water pond on north side of the trail
caladesi island freswater pond
…and south side of the trail

Fairly close to the pond, we literally stumbled upon the famous “Harp Tree” or twin pine as it’s also called. Numerous photos were taken there, and are exhibited in the book, by early photographers who came to the island to visit Myrtle’s family.

Caladesi Island The famous "Harp Tree"
The “Harp Tree”

It was a beautiful spot. I could feel the wing beats of history in the air. It was easy to imagine how life used to be there a hundred years ago, and how exciting photography had to be for these early pioneers. There would always be someone willing to climb up to be pictured sitting in the Harp Tree.

Caladesi island old pine trees
Beautiful, old pine trees

Then the trail turned back towards north and the harbor. We were admiring the old trees when we heard some rustling in the bushes next to the trail. We stopped, looked carefully, and saw a nine banded armadillo trying to dig a hole in the ground, either to find food or to prepare a new burrow. His head was already far down there, and he was working hard.

A ninebanded armadillo
A nine banded armadillo

The last part of the trail was equally beautiful. I felt like I’d been thrown back in time. A harsh time in many ways, but much more simple and peaceful in this island paradise.

A huge oak tree on the nature trail
A huge oak tree on the nature trail

The tranquility of Caladesi Island was tangible. Being dipped so deep into untouched nature was inspirational and soothing for the soul. Like coming back to my real origins.

Nature Immersion. Hiking on Honeymoon Island.

On the weekend between Christmas and New Year, I decided I had to get moving. I mean really moving. An hour of jogging around the salt marsh nearby just wouldn’t cut it. So I decided to go hiking on Honeymoon Island.

Honeymoon Island aerial in 1940s
Honeymoon Island aerial in 1940s

This beautiful island in the Gulf of Mexico was used as a hog farm by early settlers, and consequently it was called Hog Island. But when a developer from New York bought the island in 1930s, and built 50 palm thatched huts  for honeymooners, it became known as Honeymoon Island.

lovers nook hut on honeymoon island 1940s
Lovers Nook, one of the huts on Honeymoon Island in 1940s

In 1939 the developer held a competition for newlyweds, featured in the LIFE magazine, and the winners were flown onto the island for a their two-week honeymoon.

Map of the Honeymoon Island
Map of the Honeymoon Island

Today the island is a beautiful state park with gorgeous beaches and nature trails, and you can reach it by car on a causeway from the city of Dunedin. I drove there right after sunrise that Sunday, and started off on the Osprey Trail.  The natural beauty of the virgin slash pine forest was breathtaking.

HM osprey trail
The Osprey Trail
HM island pine and palm forest
Honeymoon Island forest

Right away I saw Ospreys. Some were flying and others were just hanging around, many perching on dead tree trunks close to their nests. I guess they were waiting for their mate to arrive and the nesting season to start.

HMI park osprey and her nest

All my pictures are shot from the trail. It was not advisable to walk deeper into the forest trying to get a clear shot  or a close-up . Why not? Simply because I didn’t have any desire to “shoot” the rattle snakes who also live on the island. Here are a few Ospreys out of the over 20 that I spotted that day on the Osprey Trail.

I have also prepared a small gallery of the numerous osprey nests I spotted along the trail. I thought some of them were true masterpieces showing off the nest-building capabilities of these birds. Like a Home Show.

I spotted a couple of Woodpeckers too, but couldn’t get close enough for a clear shot. Great Egrets liked to sit on the top of the tall trees and trunks, beautiful against the blue skies.

One of the Great Egrets on Honeymoon Island
One of the Great Egrets on Honeymoon Island
Another Great Egret
Another Great Egret

And I spotted a bird I had not seen before, an American Black Vulture. He was sitting in deep thought and nodded off a couple of times while I was observing him.

HM park american black vulture
An American Black Vulture
HM park american black vulture sleeping
…nodding off on his perch.

It was a peaceful hike. No manmade noises in the cool winter air. I was alone in the nature with the birds that morning.

HM pelican trail 2
The mangrove lined Pelican Trail

I wanted to hike back on the Pelican Cove Trail.  It was beautiful too and took me to the northwestern  side of the island where a small lagoon has formed between the main island and the “sand spit”. I didn’t see any Pelicans, but many other birds were wading on the “sand spit” side of the lagoon. The “sand spit” doesn’t have trails, but one can walk on the sandy beach to the north end of it to see tidal pools that tend to form there. I plan to do just that … next time.

birds on the sand spit beach HMI
Ibis and Blue Heron wading on the Sand Spit side of the Lagoon.

I stood there for quite a while inhaling the serenity and admiring the view of the calm Gulf of Mexico.  Silence swept its arms around me and I lost the sense of time. Food for the soul, nature immersion at it best.

HM island beach N
A view towards the ocean

On my way back I spotted an Osprey fairly close to the trail. She had just caught a big fish for late lunch or afternoon snack. And was not happy to see me approaching on the trail.

HM osprey with a fish2
An Osprey with a fish was not happy to get company…

My last discovery that day was a colony of fiddler crabs who had taken over the sandy trail. The sand was full of little “doors” to their dwellings. They were happily running back and forth conducting their business when I approached. But as soon as they felt the tremors from my tiptoeing feet, they hurried inside. I was free to pass their village.

HMI sand crab
A fiddler crab is scurrying away from the trail…
HM sand crab2
…and the last man on the run…made it to safety too!

It was a great hike! All my moving parts felt it for a couple of days. My soul still feels it.

I hope you enjoyed the trip and are not too tired from the long hike. Thanks for coming along!